It ain’t heavy, it’s my concrete toboggan

UAlberta Great Northern Concrete Toboggan team members are competing in this week’s national championships.

(Edmonton) When they decided to study engineering, they had no idea it would come to this, but a team of University of Alberta students will be speeding downhill in a 300-pound concrete toboggan this weekend, competing against teams from across the country.

“The competition doesn’t make sense to anyone on the outside,” says assistant captain Brittney Lopushinsky, who is in her final year of studies. “But it’s a design and build challenge. It’s a challenge to design a toboggan that fits five people—and safety is the most import design feature you are looking at. It’s a great way to push yourself to designs thing safely. The factors of safety are ridiculous.”

Teams are judged on design decisions, their ability to create a strong concrete mix, costume, team spirit and of course, speed. In the racing portion of the competition, performance is based on getting to the finish line fastest—and stopping in the shortest distance possible.

The competition is being hosted by the University of Waterloo this year and rumor has it that the hill is one of the steepest seen in recent years. That could mean record speeds.

“It depends on the weather and the kind of snow on the hill—you could get up to 65 km/h, but I don’t expect that,” said team captain Greyson Soderstrom.

Of course, you wouldn’t have much of a concrete toboggan without the concrete, and teams take their concrete mixes very seriously, experimenting with different mixes to find a blend that meets their very special needs.

Teams are required to use a concrete mix using 30 per cent Portland Cement—but after that, it’s up to the students. Concrete lead Tyler Donovan says this year’s mixture includes reclaimed concrete from the City of Edmonton, which helps recycling waste material. The team also added silica fumes, fly ash and hemp fibres.

“We did 10 concrete mix designs and 10 tests and the mix we’re using in the skis is about 1.5 times stronger than what you see used to make sidewalks in Edmonton,” he said.

The competition is friendly and highly social. Teams are encouraged to build themes around their toboggans and this year’s U of A entry is dubbed Gordon Ramski Toboggan Nightmares. Team members will be wearing chef’s costumes and the toboggan itself can be converted to resemble a cheese grater when on display.

The competition runs Jan. 24 to 28. Keep tabs on the team’s progress by following @UofAGNCTR.